Monday, July 13, 2020

These vagabond shoes ...

New York, New York. A few weeks ago, the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US. We should be avoiding it like the plague, if you will pardon the expression. And yet we have felt safer here than anywhere else we've been ashore in recent weeks. No one here questions the reality. Everyone is masked. Everyone is being careful and respectful.

This view of an empty street corner at Radio City Music Hall seems post-apocalyptic to me.

The rest of our passage was uneventful, and I turned in shortly after 3am Thursday morning. Normally I sleep until 9, but Louise rousted me at 7:40 -- we were in pea-soup fog, and she needed extra eyes on the bridge. Also, we had to run the automatic foghorn, which will wake the dead as well as the off-watch. That did not stop myriad center consoles zooming out of the fog and passing us close aboard before we could even pick them up on the radar.

Approaching The Narrows, having just emerged from the fog. Cargo ship at left passed us.

I had to make crossing arrangements with a Coast Guard cutter in the Sandy Hook channel, and alter course to cross the Ambrose channel well ahead of a cargo ship, but we made good time with a following tide, and when we arrived at Gravesend Bay, we elected to simply keep going to our intended destination here in the Hudson.

A view of Lady Liberty, through the haze, like none other I have seen: without a single visitor.

I have never seen New York Harbor this quiet or this calm. It was still hazy as we approached the Statue of Liberty and The Battery, but I snapped photos nonetheless; a daytime view of the statue that I have never seen: devoid of tourists. Governor's Island was still closed, as was Ellis Island. The Jersey City waterfront was eerily quiet. The unending parade of high-speed ferries was down to a trickle. And we passed the enormous Circle Line tour fleet and numerous other tour boats all bottled up at their berths.

Obligatory shot, again through haze, of lower Manhattan. Governor's Island to the right.

Two hours after entering the harbor, we arrived here at the West 79th Street Boat Basin, where we dropped the hook just a few hundred feet north of the marina, roughly abreast of West 83rd Street (map). We have the entire anchorage to ourselves; not a single other boat has anchored since we arrived. Even the marina docks are half empty, despite being 100% rented (the waiting list is years long).

We passed Pier 55 Park under construction. Zoom in to see the funky concrete pedestals.

We have never been able to anchor this close to the dock. Normally there are mooring balls extending north through the designated anchorage for three quarters of a mile; in the past we've had nearly a mile tender ride to get ashore. But the pandemic prompted a decision to forego installing the moorings this season, and all the anchors, chains, and floats are still sitting on the pier, ready to be deployed. Now that we've actually seen the mooring anchors, we get why they won't let our big, heavy boat use one.

Seasonal moorings neatly lined up on the pier.

Along with having the entire anchorage to ourselves, we've also had the entire dinghy dock to ourselves. In years past, the dinghy area has been so chock-a-block with boats, mostly just stored there waiting for their owners to need to go out to their moorings, that Louise has had to lean over the bow and pry them apart so we could get to the dock. The whole Boat Basin experience has been rather surreal.

Flux looking lonely in the tender area. Normally the docks on both sides are full. Empty slips in the background.

Knowing that Tropical Storm Fay was still bearing down on us, and that we'd likely be trapped on the boat all day Friday, we splashed the tender ahead of dinner time and headed ashore. After tying up at the gloriously empty dinghy area we walked to the office, which had replaced one of their exterior windows with a piece of Plexiglas with a slot in it. They have not gone touchless, but now they hand you the forms to fill out through the slot, and take your payment that way. They still have to come out of the office to let you back into the gated marina when you ring the bell upon returning, though.

Vector alone in the anchorage, beyond the icebreakers, as seen from the docks. Line of ATBs to the left are anchored.

Contributing to the surreal experience is the fact that the Boat Basin Cafe, in the Robert Moses-era structure under the traffic circle and overlooking the marina, closed and moved out last year. This was due to an upcoming rehabilitation project for the structure, not the pandemic, yet sadly eliminated the largest outdoor dining venue in the entire district at a time when outdoor dining is all that's allowed.

Once again just a breezeway, this used to be home to the Boat Basin Cafe.

Coming and going from the Boat Basin still involves walking through this space, but the large public restrooms, of which we often took advantage on our walks, are now shuttered. The Boat Basin's own facilities, which include rest rooms, showers, and a laundry, are also closed, but there are still some open facilities in Riverside Park just a short walk south.

Approaching the Hudson through the barge anchorage; Jersey City at left and Manhattan at right.

We paid for only two nights, not really knowing what we would find in the city, or if we would feel safe there. But as we walked up to the restaurant district on Amsterdam Avenue, our comfort level increased. There are far fewer people out and about, yet things are still vibrant here. We strolled the avenue a bit, picked up a couple of bagels for the morning at our usual joint, and ended up at an old standby, the Amsterdam Ale House, for draft beer and sandwiches. We ate on the sidewalk, but the tables spill out into the street, taking over blocked-off parking spaces as part of the city's program to expand outdoor dining while indoor tables remain off-limits.

Gratuitous shot of my alma mater. A new academic building is rising at center frame.

After returning to Vector we decked and secured the tender, in anticipation of the storm. And then we both crashed early, the sleep shortage from the two-night passage catching up with us. With the storm winds not forecast to arrive until daylight, we knew we could get a good night's sleep.

Vector comfortably at anchor in the Hudson, as seen from Riverside Park at 84th.

Long-time readers may know that Fay is not, as they say, our first rodeo. In fact, it is the fifth tropical cyclone that we have ridden out aboard Vector. Our previous encounters were 2014's Hurricane Arthur while we were in Portsmouth, Virginia; 2016's Tropical Storm Colin which we rode out in St. Marks, Florida; 2017's Tropical Storm Cindy when we were in Biloxi, Mississippi; and also in 2017, Hurricane Irma, while at the dock in Charleston, South Carolina. (Posts before and after those linked cover our preparations, and aftermath.)

Another section of the ever-changing Manhattan skyline. Illusion of perspective makes the Empire State Building seem short in this shot.

While we prepped the boat for a tropical storm, and expected perhaps gale force winds, in fact, landfall was somewhat south of us, and the easterly protection afforded by the hillside and the mid-rise buildings thereon meant we only saw winds in the 25-30 range. By contrast, it was likely a 70mph gust in a thunderstorm that ripped our top off on the Chick.

A section of West End Avenue closed off during the day as part of the Open Streets initiative.

We had a nice dinner aboard, and, as evening fell, the skies had cleared, and New Yorkers were already returning to Riverside Park. Vector got a good fresh-water rinse, and we were no worse for wear, merely adding another notch to our tropical cyclone survival belt. In the morning we put the dinghy back in the water.

I have never in my lifetime seen 5th Avenue this empty.

Speaking of adding notches, I've been meaning to mention that while we were cruising the James River system, our odometer rolled past 30,000 nautical miles. Owners of semi-production cruising boats like Nordhavns and Krogens get pennants for that milestone; we settled for making a log entry. We're on page 277 of our 304-page, bound and numbered log book, which we will be retiring shortly in favor of a nice clean new one.

"Black Lives Matter" painted on 5th, directly in front of Trump Tower. The block is closed off and there is a large police presence.

We've now been here five days, and, across the river from us, several of the ATBs in the anchorage have been here at least that long. On AIS I counted 14 anchored tows, whereas on previous visits we have seldom seen even one, and then, only for a day or two. They are clearly idled, and appear to be empty. The vast majority are Reinauer Transportation fuel barges, and we're starting to think of ourselves as being in the Reinauer ghetto. At least we can get off the boat and go ashore; those crews must be going stir-crazy.

A police presence and more barricades at the namesake statue in Columbus Circle.

Other than the one stormy day, we've been able to walk to dinner nightly, visiting some of our old standbys which have expanded onto the sidewalks and into the street. One night it rained while we were eating, and we did the best we could to huddle under the little bit of awning while our pizza got wet. Spacing has been good, and the servers have all been masked; signs near all the outside dining areas forbid people from standing nearby.

Dinner at Cotto. The rain has just stopped.

During the day I have been riding around a bit on the e-bike, taking in the changes to the rhythm of the city. The streets are nearly empty, so much so that the city has been able to close off some sections to provide more room for pedestrians and cyclists to get exercise. Outdoor public spaces normally packed with tourists or locals, like Times Square and Rockefeller Center, are devoid of throngs. Most indoor public spaces are still closed.

Atlas, Masked.

The parks are open and somewhat busy, but not nearly as much as usual. Here on the Upper West Side, many residents have alternate homes outside the city, and there was an exodus early on. And parks in midtown are normally the province of commuters, the majority of whom are still absent. On the weekend, workers here in Riverside Park were passing out handfuls of surgical masks to anyone who needed them.

All the statuary at Rockefeller Center was masked; zoom in to see Prometheus masked; Maiden and Youth on either side of the frame are also masked.

Since our last visit here, there is a new game in town for local transportation, to wit, shared-mobility electric mopeds. These basically look and function like a 49cc step-through scooter, with lights, signals, license plates, and all the other hallmarks of a motorcycle, just electric drive. You rent them the same way you rent the electric kick scooters from Lime, Bird, and others that you see in many cities now: via an app downloaded on your smartphone.

Sunday the weather was perfect, and The Great Lawn of Central Park was popular.

The app tells you where to find an available scooter and how much charge it has left. It will then unlock the scooter and rack up a per-minute charge while you ride. You park the scooter anywhere within the designated service area and the app locks it back up. Because, unlike the kick scooters, these are legally motor vehicles, you have to upload your valid driver license and some biometrics before first use.

My steed for the day. They even include a cellphone holder on the handlebar for your map app.

For the time being, we have sworn off riding public transit such as buses or subways, and we won't get into a taxi or rideshare like Uber, either, unless there is some kind of emergency. So these scooters, from a company called Revel, seem to be a safer alternative. I signed up yesterday, and today I found a scooter and took it for a spin, just to be familiar with them. We don't have any pressing need, but it's nice to have the option if we needed to get downtown to, say, West Marine, or Best Buy, or a post office. The service is available in a couple of other cities as well.

The Sunday farmers market is back in operation surrounding the shuttered American Museum of Natural History.

Tomorrow we will likely extend for another night or two so that I can take the e-bike all the way downtown, and then we will be moving along. There has been no further word on reopening the Canadian border, and so from here we will cruise back down the Hudson, round the Battery, and head to Long Island Sound via the East River.

Looking at Times Square from 47th. I have never seen it this empty.

If you've just joined us recently, and would like to get a better sense of what things were like here on previous visits, before the pandemic put the "city that never sleeps," well, to sleep, you can read here about last year's stop, and there's a shot of the Boat Basin Cafe in this post from the year before that. We've mostly stopped here every year since 2014.

1 comment:

  1. I have a friend that lives just a few blocks from where you were moored..... her photos are just as eerily empty looking as yours are...


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